I get a lot of questions about family formals, and rightly so. If I hadn't worked with a wedding photographer before I got married, I wouldn't have even known what "family formal" meant. Basically, family formals are the posed family photos that take place right before or after a wedding ceremony.
For the record, I want to point out that I am not a "pose-y" or traditional photographer. If a bride or groom is looking for these formal photographs throughout their wedding day then I am not the right photographer for them. I reserve a specific time for family formal photos, which have been meticulously planned for that specific time, and otherwise I'm shooting interactive portraits or as a fly on the wall.
That being said, I do think traditional family photos are important. I understand that grandma might not want to hang a candid shot on her wall or that this might be the first time your entire family has been in one place all together since 2004. I know I cherish the family photos we have from our wedding.
So, let's talk about how to make the family formal experience run smoothly and a good time for all:
- Tell the applicable family members ahead of time that they should stay after the ceremony (or come before the ceremony if you're doing a first look) for photos. When you're coordinating so many people, someone is bound to be missed. Despite best efforts, it never seems to fail that someone on the family formal list leaves for the reception, either forgetting they were supposed to stay or never having been told. Send your family members a quick e-mail a couple weeks out to let them know that you'd love a photo with them before or after the ceremony.
- Designate a family member to help round people up during photos. I have a planned list of photos that my assistant uses to get people lined up, but it always makes things go faster if a family member who knows most of the people on the list helps get them on deck. We don't necessarily know who Aunt Sally and Uncle Jim are, but a cousin can pull them out of the crowd.
- Plan for a manageable number of photos. Look, I totally get that this is the one time everyone is together and you want to take advantage of that with lots of photo combinations, HOWEVER, it won't be a pleasant experience for anyone if you have 53 different groupings to get through. :) A couple months before a wedding, I send the bride and groom a list of family formal photo ideas. The list is long. I don't expect them to check every, single one. Ten to 12 different combinations is generally very manageable and can be done in 20 minutes if the groups don't include 50 people each. If a couple wants more photos than that but we don't have the time for it, we'll do a few more photos at the reception. Win-win!
- Think about the lighting. If you have the option to take family formals outside, DO IT! I would choose natural light, bright photos over the light of a shadowy, dark church any day (notice all the photos in the blog post were taken in natural light). So if you and your family are OK with being a little untraditional, plan to move outside for photo time.